What does science say about how cannabis affects your quality and desire for sex?
Cannabis has long been purported as an aphrodisiac for both men and women. We can even find writings on the aphrodisiac effects of the plant in the myths of middle-ages Hashashins, some of the most feared and respected Islamic warriors, speaking of the “voluptuous sexual fantasies and delights that may be evoked by hashish.” However, with most aphrodisiacs, especially those in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the facts rarely live up to the hype. So, we wanted to look at what the science says about how cannabis affects sexual desire and performance and what the mechanisms for those effects may be. So, join us as we explore the sexier side of the cannabis plant.
What do people say about sex while stoned?
Aside from the centuries of cannabis being proclaimed as an aid to heighten sexual arousal, several studies have asked cannabis users to rate their experiences since the 1970s. These subjective surveys give us the first glimpse into how cannabis affects a user’s sexual drive, performance, and satisfaction. One of the first such studies we looked at was from the Journal of Clinical Psychology, published in 1979. In that study, 84 graduate students were surveyed. It was concluded that more studies should be done, as the marijuana-using cohort had implied higher sexual satisfaction. It was also reported that the women in the group responded that they had an increased desire for sex following cannabis consumption. If we jump ahead several decades from that small study, we find similar, more in-depth results.
In a 2019 epidemiological study, 216 online questionnaires were given to regular cannabis users (one third were daily users), participants were again asked about their cannabis use and sexual experiences, with similar results. 52.3% admitted that they used cannabis to alter their sexual experience, with 38.7% saying it made sex better (and 16.0% saying it made it better in some ways but worse in others), and only 4.7% saying it made sex worse. To break down further what was better and what was worse, 58.9% said it increased their desire for sex, and an impressive 73.8% reported increased sexual satisfaction. But that’s not all, the majority of people (74.3%) reported an increase in sensitivity to touch as well as increased intensity of orgasms (65.7%). They also reported that it was easier to focus, that they could relax more during sex, and that it was easier to reach orgasm. Of those who said that it made sex worse, they cited ,
“…that cannabis interfered by making them sleepy and less focused or had no effect on their sexual experience.”
These findings were congruent with those of another study conducted in 2017, in which nightclub attendees (men and women) were asked about their sexual habits involving drug use. They also found that marijuana users reported an increase in sexual enjoyment (53.5%) and orgasm intensity (44.9%). And the same result was also found in one of the most recent studies published in 2019 in the Journal of Sex Medicine. In that study, the vast majority said that cannabis made sex more pleasurable (68.5%), increased sex drive (60.8%), and increased satisfying orgasms (52.8%). The major difference between this study and the others – this study was only with women.
How cannabis affects women and men differently during sex
The ancient claims were that marijuana was always an aphrodisiac, however, when we look at the scientific data from the 1970s until today, we see two narratives: one which says cannabis improves sex and one that says it decreases sex drive and pleasure. Why the dichotomy in conclusions? It mostly has to do with whether the user is male or female and how large and frequent the dose of cannabis is. Although no scientific consensus as yet been reached, weed generally improves both the sex drive and pleasure in women, but in men, those improvements are only seen at small, infrequent doses.
In the 2019 study on women mentioned above, it was found that cannabis consumption prior to sex positively increased all aspects of the experience (libido, sensation, orgasm intensity) except in regard to lubrication, which remained roughly the same. Furthermore, after adjusting for race, both the women who reported cannabis use prior to sex and those who reported chronic cannabis use had 2.13 higher odds of reporting a satisfactory orgasm during their last sexual activity compared with non-cannabis users. It was also found that the women in the study reported cannabis improving sex more so than most other drugs, in particular when compared with alcohol. So, for many women, it would seem that the benefits of cannabis consumption prior to sex are quite profound, but what about for men?
As discussed above, men also report that their sex drive and pleasure increase after consuming cannabis; however, this only seems to work up until a point, after which cannabis can be harmful. This bidirectional conclusion was first postulated in the 1970s and has been reported throughout several studies.
In one of the most extensive reviews, Cannabis and Sexuality, published in 2017, the adverse effects of chronic and large dose cannabis use on men’s sexuality was discussed. The issues most often described with men using cannabis chronically or in high doses was a lack of interest in sex, erectile dysfunction, and inhibited orgasm. In one study that the paper reviewed from the 1970s, it found that 50.5% of men showed an increase in sexual desire after one joint, but that number dropped to 34.5% after a second joint was smoked. As for women, it showed a slight decrease in desire after the second joint, but much less of a change than men (70.9% to 49.5%). The results of sexual enjoyment were similar.
In another study in the 1970s in India, it was noted that “a very unusual gratification in an orgasmic experience in younger users.” However, when cannabis was taken in moderate doses, it increased desire but made performance impossible, and “the chronic use of the drug leads to a sad condition, where the lack of desire may also be coupled with inability to perform.”
So, it would appear that while acute, low doses of cannabis improve sexual satisfaction (libido, sensation, orgasm intensity) in both men and women, once doses are increased, or use becomes chronic, then two results start to vary across the genders. There is a slight reduction in sex drive for women, but in men, it can mean a major reduction in sex drive, as well as the ability to perform or achieve orgasm.
Why does cannabis influence sexuality?
Since the human endocannabinoid system was discovered in the late 1980s, scientists and doctors have been trying to identify the location of endocannabinoid receptors in the brain (primarily CB1 receptors) and the peripheral nervous system (primarily CB2 receptors). They have found these receptors on many of the body’s organs, including the female reproductive system. In fact, a 2012 study looked at the levels of endocannabinoids in circulating blood serum of women before and after being shown sexually arousing photographs. The study found that both cannabinoids assessed (AEA and 2-AG) decreased in abundance following the viewing of the sexually arousing photos, but not the control photos (the endocannabinoids were being used up.)
The study concluded:
“…revealed a significant relationship between endocannabinoid concentrations and female sexual arousal.”
The similar conclusion was also showed in a study on rats, which concluded that cannabinoid receptor agonists could be a potential therapeutic for women suffering from low libido. These cannabinoid receptors have been identified on the smooth muscle tissue of the human uterus during pregnancy, which results in the relaxation of those tissues when exposed to endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide) or endocannabinoids (THC). So, the mechanisms of how cannabis affects women’s sexuality are beginning to become more apparent; however, in men, it is still very poorly understood.
It has been postulated that cannabis works through a variety of mechanisms in the brain and body. It is recognized that cannabis interacts with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, which controls the sex hormones. However, this relationship is still poorly understood. Additionally, cannabis has been shown to reduce testosterone levels in a dose-dependent manner. However, this effect is small, and most likely would not lead to a change in sexual function. It may also be that cannabis increases neurotransmitters’ release in both men and women, most notably serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. This would also explain the increase in the physical sensation of touch and closeness to their partner that many cannabis users report.
Does cannabis make users more promiscuous?
In many studies, cannabis users reported an increased sense of closeness with their sexual partner, a feeling of security and comfort. This was proposed as one of the reasons for increased sexual satisfaction, particularly in women, and reduced pain related to sex. Those studies also showed an increase in preference for a familiar sexual partner.
However, in another survey conducted by phone in Australia, 8,650 participants answered a questionnaire on cannabis use. After adjusting for demographic factors, daily cannabis use was associated with an increased likelihood of having two or more sexual partners last year in both men and women. It was also found that women who consumed cannabis daily also reported a higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections. However, it is important to remember that correlation does not imply causation, and that there may be a third factor at play, including hard drug use and other unsafe behaviors. The answer to this question seems to require more studies before a conclusion can be reached, as the limited information available is contradictory.
All in all, it would appear that the argument for the benefits of cannabis for sexuality is quite strong, especially as they pertain to women. But for both women and especially men, cannabis in low doses is associated with sexual enhancement, while in higher or chronic doses is related to sexual dysfunction. Both males and females, this effect seems to be derived from cannabis’ interaction with brain neurotransmitters as well as a change in the level of various hormones is circulating blood serum.
In women, in particular, this effect may also be derived from the direct effects on the sexual organs due to endocannabinoid receptor agonism and smooth muscle relaxation effects. Regardless, cannabis seems to be a safe and effective means to spice up your relationship, feel closer to your sexual partner, and experience more intense orgasms. However, the caveat is that less is more, meaning that smaller, less frequent, and smaller doses will lead to a more desirable effect.